Ajijaak on Turtle Island tells the story of Ajijaak, a young whooping crane. Separated from her family in a Tar Sands fire caused by the monstrous Mishibizhiw, Ajijaak must make her first migration from Wood Buffalo, Canada, down to the Gulf Coast on her own, finding her voice and a family through the interconnectedness of all of creation.
Ajijaak begins her travels with a medicine bundle, given to her by her parents, as her guide. She encounters deer, buffalo, coyote, and turtles as well as communities of people from Ojibwe, Ho-Chunk, Lakota, and Cherokee Nations, living in balance with their environments. These people share with Ajijaak prayers, songs, and dances that celebrate life on earth and help Ajijaak find the meaning and strength of her own song. It is with this song that Ajijaak must restore balance to Turtle Island and return Mishibizhiw to sleep.
A reflection on life’s energy and how it connects all aspects of our world, Ajijaak on Turtle Island brings communities together through puppetry, music, traditional dances, animations, and kites. Ajijaak’s story puts forward visions from Indigenous communities, celebrating the symbiotic relationship between cranes and Native American/Indigenous peoples, and inspiring the next generation of storytellers, change-makers, and eco-champions.The world premiere presentation of Ajijaak on Turtle Island was hosted at La MaMa in NYC, February 8-18, 2018 (Source).
Educators using this resource can view the trailer, read the description on the website, and looking through the photo gallery. As of now, there is no video of the full performance available online.
Creator(s): Ty Defoe (Giizhig), Heather Henson, Dawn Avery, Kevin Tarrant, Larry Mitchell, IBEX Puppetry
Ty Defoe (Giizhig) is from the Oneida and Ojibwe Nations. He is an interdisciplinary-hyphenated artist, activist, writer, cultural worker, and shape-shifter. As a two-spirit person Ty aspires to an integral approach to artistic projects, social justice, indigeneity, and environmentalism. Ty gained recognition in many circles around the world including a Grammy Award for his work on “Come to Me Great Mystery.” Ty’s global cultural arts highlights are: the Millennium celebration in Cairo, Egypt with the Call for Peace Drum and Dance Company; Turkey for the Ankara International Music Festival, and Festival of World Cultures in Dubai. Ty’s frequents his own community where he learned to hoop dance, eagle dance, and play a variety of wooden flutes. Ty is always a guest artist at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. and NYC. Awards include: NEA/NEFA for reconstructing and indigenizing, Drum is Thunder, Flute is Wind, First American in the Arts Outstanding Performance Award, First Americans in the Arts Scholarship Award, an Indigenous Heritage Festival Award: this award is given to artists who have made a major positive impact on indigenous people and rights of the world, a Robert Rauschenberg Artist in Residence, 2016-2018 Olga J. and G. Roland Denison visiting artist Professorship of Native American Studies at Central Michigan University, 2016-2017 Institute of the American Indian Arts Visiting Artist, 2017 Jonathan Larson Award winner creating book and lyrics on “Clouds Are Pillows for the Moon (w/ composer Tidtaya Sinutoke at Yale Institute for Musical Theatre; ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop), Hart Island Requiem (The Civilians R&D Group), Crossing Borders (CAP 21), Red Pine (Native Voices at the Autry; IAIA of Santa Fe), The Way They Lived (Co-collaboration w Micharne Cloughley and The Civilians at the Met Museum), writer on Ajijaak on Turtle Island (Ibex Puppetry at La MaMa Theater, NYC, Lied Center for the Performing Arts, NE). Ty is a co-founder of Indigenous Direction (w/ Larissa FastHorse). His writing publications can be viewed in the Pitkin Review, Woody Guthrie Anthology, the Thorny Locust Magazine, and Howl Round. He has received degrees from CalArts, Goddard College, NYU’s Tisch. A Theater Communications Group Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Fellow alumni and an artEquity facilitator. He appeared on Netflix show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as Young Anthony Black Elk and recently made his Broadway debut in Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men directed by Anna Shapiro. He lives in NYC and loves the color clear (Source).
Heather Henson is an ardent advocate for the environment and the art of puppetry. Henson created IBEX Puppetry, a multi-platform production company to support her interests in health and healing for the planet by creating various art-driven projects. She blends the disciplines of visual art, environmental education, theater, and community engagement to create immersive, interactive presentations that engage all of the senses and awaken the soul. Past projects include: Harmonious Migrations, Crane: On Earth, In Sky, Endangered Species Parade, Celebration of Flight, FLIGHT: A Crane’s Story, and the UNIMA Citation of Excellence-winning stage show Panther and Crane. In addition to her theater & parade work, she has produced a puppet film series called Handmade Puppet Dreams with over nine volumes currently. She has also created the Puppet Slam Network, featuring about 50 puppet producing venues. Heather is a Trustee for the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and sits on the Board of Directors for The International Crane Foundation and The Jim Henson Legacy (Source).
Grammy and NAMA nominated, Dawn Avery has worked with musical luminaries from Pavarotti to Sting, Cage to Nakai; composing for Indigenous films (Smithsonian’s NMAI, Rich/Heape); touring with her own multi-media projects including 50 Shades of Red and mentoring future generations in the Native Composer’s Project. Avery holds a PhD in ethnomusicology (Indigenous theory, Native Classical music). Of Mohawk descent, her longhouse name is Ieriho:kwats and she wears the turtle clan. Some of the music from this performance may be heard on the Global Award-Winning CD, Crane on Earth, in Sky: A Journey, available for sale (Source).
Kevin Tarrant is Ho-Chunk, Hopi, A member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and the Hopi Tribe of Arizona. He was brought up in the traditional way and has been singing since the age of 9. For the past 27 years he has been the Lead singer of NAMMY award winning SilverCloud Singers out of New York City. He Also the Managing Director of Safe Harbors Indigenous Collective. Most recently performed and served as Musical Director for Don’t Feed the Indians – A Divine Comedy Pageant! (Source).
Larry Mitchell is a Grammy award-winning producer, engineer and performer who has toured the world playing guitar with well-known artists including Tracy Chapman, Billy Squier, Ric Ocasek, and Miguel Bosé. In his original compositions, Larry skillfully weaves guitar textures that showcase his virtuosity as a solo artist and ensemble player. As an artist, he has released 8 solo records and won a San Diego Music Award for best pop jazz artist. Larry is currently touring promoting his 2016 release “The Traveler.” As a producer-engineer, Larry has won 26 New Mexico Music Awards in various categories from pop, adult contemporary, rap, rock, country, World music, and Native American. He won a Grammy Award for producing, engineering, and performing on “Totemic Flute Chants” by Native American artist Johnny Whitehorse, who is better known as Robert Mirabal of Taos Pueblo. Larry is currently touring with his own trio as well as solo shows in support of “The Traveler” (Source).
IBEX Puppetry (a division of Green Feather) is an entertainment nonprofit devoted to health and healing of the planet through artistic spectacle, outreach, and the fine art of puppetry. Founded in 2000 by Heather Henson, and receiving multiple UNIMA (Union Internationale de la Marionette) awards since its inception, IBEX produces Henson’s original works, including Ajijaak on Turtle Island, Environmental Spectacles, Sing-Alongs, and Education Initiatives, and supports contemporary puppetry works by independent artists through the Handmade Puppet Dreams film series and Puppet Slam Network (Source).